What a beautiful example of pioneer quilting from the earliest possible Strawberry Point, Alaska days! It is doubtful that an earlier sample will ever be identified or found. Why? Simple, really. As the historical timeline of the early settlers at "The Point" goes, it would be next to impossible to “go back” in time further than Verne and Janet Henry and the now famous "Honeymoon Ranch"!
Here’s the story. In May 1914, Verne Henry and his friends, Bill Taggert and Jack Davis found their way to Strawberry Point via a steamer to Juneau and cannery tender to the Point. They rowed their way a couple of hundred yards up Salmon River on a high tide and in pouring rain and their history in Strawberry Point (Gustavus) began. (See Hope and Hard Work by Jim Mackovjak, Chapter 1 for detailed descriptions of their lives at Strawberry Point from tents, to log cabin, agricultural endeavors and loss of their homestead dreams.)
Fast forward to the sixties. After Verne Henry’s death in 1965, Phil Henry (grandson of Verne and Janie) was the first of the Henry family to return to Gustavus. He was able to locate the ruins of "The Honeymoon Ranch", and walk in some of the steps of his enterprising ancestors.
Locals were thrilled to meet him and were very interested to find that Janie Henry was still alive. In late fall 1966 at the age of 74, Janie accepted an invitation to return to Gustavus (her first visit since their arrival more than 50 years ago in 1914) and reportedly was treated like a celebrity. She impressed the locals by her still-young, indomitable spirit and expressed her pleasure by writing that her trip was a beautiful, perfect dream come true, marred by not a single unpleasant experience.
Since that time other Henry family members have come to Alaska to explore their roots and have always been welcomed with open arms. Verne and Janie’s granddaughter purchased a piece of land in Gustavus to keep the historical connection of her grandparents homestead dreams and love of Strawberry Point alive. Although it was sold in 2005, the family expressed to GHAA a strong desire to return once again (sometime in the future) to visit the land of their ancestors.
On October 30, 2006, Sally Lesh received a letter from Vern and Janie’s daughter (Sally promptly called GHAA!) telling of a quilt top her mother had pieced together during the 4+ years she was at Strawberry Point, Alaska 1914 to late 1918. It seems that nothing had ever been done with the quilt so it had languished all these years as an unfinished project.
Granddaughter Lisa had a group of Pennsylvania Mennonites finish the hand-quilting for a donation and the story of the Henry’s early experiences in Alaska. A photo of the finished quilt was forwarded to GHAA and that is how we can bring this beautiful part of Strawberry Point history into your home.
GHAA contacted the Henry's daughter Judy and found that before Janie Henry's death, mother told daughter that the pattern of this wonderful piece of early Strawberry Point (Gustavus), Alaska work was called “Garden Path”.
Did the short summers of experimental plantings and oft-times discouraging work tending their gardens (a positive outcome an absolute necessity if there would be food for the table come long, harsh winters) influence her choice of pattern? Did the three "honeymooning" couples spend the long, harsh winters dreaming of their summer garden paths? Though it’s fun to contemplate, we’ll never really know.
Thank you Henry family for sharing this rare, and until recently, unknown important early Strawberry Point, Alaska artifact!
Quilt lovers enjoy!